Pembroke College Rugby Football Club (PCRFC) has apologised for an email sent to its members with the subject line, “FREE PUSSY”. In the email, the club’s Social Secretary provided details of plans for a crew date where each male guest should “pick” a female fresher of their choice. The sender of the email has since stepped down from his position.
In the same email, sent on Monday 21 October, he went on to propose a “challenge” to all male guests. He said, “please bring TWO bottles of wine – one for yourself and one for your guest”. The email continues, “You must open the bottle in advance, and include a substance of your choice. It may be spirits or food or anything you like.”
He added, “Please be as clandestine as possible in your deed”. The email further stated that the theme of the crew date was “VILLAINS” and that “Villains must be discrete [sic] in their work.”
The rugby club’s annual crew date with female freshers at the college was arranged for the evening of Thursday 24 October. Members of the rugby club were asked by the social secretary to ensure they had “picked [their] lady for the night” and the email noted that “every fresher in Pembroke is quaking in their boots thinking they might be picked as our date.”
One member of the team was instructed in the email to, “Please bring a positive pregnancy test. This task shall be ongoing until you succeed.”
Last term all rugby teams in Oxford were invited to attend workshops run by the Good Lad campaign, launched by the Oxford University Rugby Club, promoting ‘positive masculinity’, but the Pembroke rugby team did not take up this invitation.
However, after the content of the emails was made known to other members of the college, a large proportion of the team was present at a sexual consent discussion forum at Pembroke on Wednesday night. The forum was organised by members of the Pembroke JCR committee in conjunction with representatives from OUSU and the governing body of the College.
The team’s profile on the website crewdater.com states, “Hi we’re Pembroke Rugby and when we’re not noshing on each others [sic] crotches, we like to show you ladies a good time! Apply accordingly.” Their page on the Pembroke College JCR website describes them as “notorious on the crewdating scene.”
In the wake of the response to the email, the email’s sender has resigned as Social Secretary of the Pembroke College Rugby Football Club and the proposed crew date was cancelled.
A statement on behalf of PCRFC said, “Pembroke Rugby Club accepts that the emails circulated earlier this week about our proposed Crew Date were entirely misguided and represent a serious case of poor judgement.
“We would like to clarify that the “challenge” proposed in advance of the intended Crew Date was intended to be a harmless drinking game joke, and was in no way intended to mean that the team member should lace their dates’ drinks with anything illegal and/or to engage in any sexual abuse. A leader of the club confirmed, in a follow up email, that what the joke was supposed to involve the player adding another drink or food to their date’s wine (e.g. tabasco), and if the date guessed correctly what had been added then that player would then have to drink the wine.
“The rugby club and its members want to take this opportunity to apologise for any confusion or misunderstanding that arose from this.”
One member of the rugby team, who was one of the initial recipients of the email, said, “In light of actually reading the incredibly long original email, the social sec is clearly a fool to have said what he said. It is also a shame that all the Pembroke lads are smeared with the same brush, when what he said is obviously not representative.”
He added, “As a general comment I am deeply saddened this has happened, throughout my time at Pembroke the social side of rugby has been for the most part truly enjoyable, and I have made great friends. I haven’t been aware of any problem like this before, and find it such a great shame the actions of a few have offended so many people.”
A statement (full statement here) on behalf of Rebecca Howe (Pembroke JCR President), Sarah Wilmshurst (JCR Women’s Rep) and Alexandros Tsaptsinos (JCR Sports Rep) said, “We fear that the rugby committee do not seem to have grasped the seriousness of their offences, and will shrug this off as an overreaction of a female-led JCR committee. However, it is to the great credit of Pembroke that so many people have found the email completely unacceptable, and have spoken against it.”
The statement continues, “The captain and [former] social secretary will be issuing an apology to the JCR, and plan to speak about the issue at our next JCR meeting. A constitutional motion to introduce measures to formally sanction each club or society wishing to be affiliated with the JCR is being considered. We will also reconsider the JCR’s contribution to the funding of PCRFC if this behaviour continues.”
They also commented, “This incident does not – and must not be seen to – reflect the vast majority of sentiments in college towards women. We are an inclusive and respectful JCR, and we will not tolerate the actions of a minority threatening the welfare of our members, or indeed the reputation of our college.”
The statement concludes, “We are committed to ensuring that misogyny does not prevail at Pembroke, and that basic disrespect towards our female members will not continue to be excused as ‘banter’.”
Dr Clive Siviour, Dean of Pembroke College, said, “I am aware of the e-mail sent by a member of the Rugby Club. The content of this e-mail is completely unacceptable, and I am taking the appropriate action on behalf of the College authorities. These actions of a small number of students have been met with universal condemnation from their peers. I understand that the event referred to in the e-mail has been cancelled and the organisers intend to apologise fully to the JCR community for their actions. It is the responsibility of all of us at Oxford to create a community in which our students behave responsibly and with mutual respect; for this reason we fully support the excellent sexual consent workshops which OUSU are running in a number of colleges, including Pembroke, and the enthusiastic engagement of our own students with this initiative.”
Will Brown, a third-year student at Pembroke, told Cherwell, “I, like the vast majority of students at Pembroke, was disgusted by these comments. They represent an ugly, corrosive form of misogyny that simply shouldn’t be tolerated in any level of society, and that can’t just be dismissed as yet another supposedly harmless juvenile ‘joke’. This incident highlights the dangers of a ‘lad culture’ that has been all too dominant at Pembroke in my time here, and shows that commendable initiatives like sexual consent workshops are vital to ensure that our colleges and common rooms remain inclusive, safe environments for everyone.”
Lottie Sykes, editor of feminist zine ‘Cuntry Living’, said, “This email is another example of the sinister misogyny that encourages targeting younger female students through college crew dates. It’s incredibly disheartening that the furor over similar mass emails seems to have been ignored- [the email sender’s] proposal reinforces predatory, sexist values that are too often associated with Blues sports, and affirms an entirely negative stereotype. We have to shake off the idea that this kind of behaviour is funny or harmless- common justifications for refusing to acknowledge the gravity of misogynistic actions.”
One Pembroke student commented, “The concept of being ‘picked’ or ‘quaking’ at the thought of being invited to a meal isn’t the way to ‘welcome’ freshers to the university.” She continued, “Pembroke is such a great college and it’s a shame that a minority feel it’s acceptable to behave like this.”